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from issue no. 03 - 2007

Peter, we are with you

by Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento

A comforting moment was for me was the gesture made by the secretary of Cardinal Ratzinger at the airport of Portela (Lisbon), a few years ago when, having seen me a little left out, he informed His Eminence of my presence. He seemed to me ready to come and meet me half way. Confused, I hurried to reach him, and after the greeting had an exchange of views with him. I will say in all truth that I was not astonished at his attitude of uncommon simplicity: a bearing that one might at first judge as one of reserve, but that immediately stirs liking. There are in fact gifted persons who resemble the beautiful fountains of Rome: they whisper, gush fresh, good water ready to slake our thirst. The passerby however needs to approach.
How many times have I seen the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith crossing Saint Peter’s Square! His passage disturbed no one, aroused no particular attention: the children ran after the pigeons, under the eyes of mothers or grandmothers.
Yes, that mildness and that discretion were already noticed in far-off 1965, during the Council: the young theologian who accompanied Cardinal Frings was among the experts most in the foreground. Yves Congar made clear the positive contribution coming from Ratzinger’s constructive attitude in the midst of the tensions that never lack there where men are found... Father Congar wrote these significant words at the time: «Fortunately there is Ratzinger. He is reasonable, modest, unselfish, someone helpful in fact... » (Mon journal du Concile, I, Editions du Cerf, Paris 2002, p. 355).
I knew him before he became Pope and sometimes we talked to each other and worked together in the meetings of some Roman Congregations. Naturally on my part there was that due reserve: I was aware in fact of his imposing academic cursus honorum, of his recognized competence, not only in his native Germany. He had, amongst his other important posts, that of member of the Institut de France, where he had taken the place of Sacharov. On his appointment the cardinal spoke about his great interest in French literature, not only in the classics (that goes without saying) but also in more recent authors, our contemporaries, those whom we can consider, without too much presumption, our elder brothers. In fact, in the period between 1930 and 1970, France had a line-up of authors who are its rightful pride, but who, in many cases, are also the pride of Catholicism. Just to name a few: Paul Claudel, Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Emmanuel Mounier.
As a man of reflection and study, Professor Ratzinger was necessarily a person with a vital need of silence and of solitude. He needed that inner space especially that it might be filled by prayer, by dialogue with God, Who is the first who must be served: His presence in the human heart constitutes that milieu divin of which Teilhard de Chardin spoke, without which the spirit feels like a fish out of water. The passion Joseph Ratzinger has for the liturgy is famous, a passion that comes from the time of his youth, for which he has been always grateful to Professor Joseph Pascher and derived profit from the liturgical movement that found in Romano Guardini an enlightened guide followed also outside Germany.
But naturally this silence and such solitude was filled also by fertile dialogue with the great thinkers of the past: their writings are often a stimulus and we can often find in them productive points of view, and some times the spur for the beginning of an original work. Providence, with all this and also with historical events, inside and outside his country, prepared our Holy Father for us.
Become Pope, Ratzinger immersed himself in a solitude, if possible, even greater... Paul VI made a revelation to Jean Guiton about this experience: the universal fatherhood, that of the Successor to Peter, has its own unique requirements, honor, without doubt. But perhaps more onus , that only a great personal love of Christ can sustain.
All this is wrapped in the mystery of the vocation to the apostolic primacy. Whereby this individual is taken in his unrepeatable being, unique: in his human, biological and cultural roots; in his lived and also inherited past. In this case also the clay, an integral part of the human being, is brought together under the penetrating, triumphant look of Him who chooses: «Lord, you know all». And... You can all!
Benedict XVI in prayer in the Auschwitz concentration camp, 28 May 2006

Benedict XVI in prayer in the Auschwitz concentration camp, 28 May 2006

That passage in the Acts of the Apostles (12, 6-18) always astonishes me: that difference between Peter who becomes intimidated in front of a young door-keeper (John 18, 17) and Peter who finds himself in jail: «... watched by two soldiers, bound with two chains he was sleeping while sentries before the door were guarding the prison» (Acts 12, 6). The apostle surrendered totally to his master, whom he loved deeply: of this he had full, unequivocal awareness, so much so that he appealed to the testimony of the Lord: «You know I love you» (John 21, 17).
In the apostolic journey to Poland (May 2006) the Holy Father had to face this immutable data of his human roots. When he visited Auschwitz, he declared in his speech: «I am here today as son of the German people». He said heartfelt, grieved words. Reading them one hears something of the tones of the extreme conflict between the love nurtured by some great ancient prophet for his Lord and its shattering mystery...
Ratzinger exclaimed in Birkenau: «How many questions imposed themselves upon us in this place! The question always emerges again: Where was God in those days? Why was He silent? How could He tolerate such excess of destruction, this triumph of evil?» Dostoevsky, faced with the mystery of the suffering of children, rebelled, rejected the justification that the Lord will give us in his time (The Brothers Karamazov). Naturally this is not the line of the Pope. History did not end with the death of the Lord (the greatest crime of humanity). Indeed, a better epoch came: «Felix culpa!...». This darkness in the history of persons or of people emphasizes how seriously the Lord takes created freedom. But the last word is reserved to Him, because He always knows how to draw a greater good from evil. The “when” is His secret, and it demands from us creatures faith and humility.

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